Vincent Tolliver, a candidate for Little Rock, mayor, has written legislators asking the Senate Education Committee to ask Education Commissioner Johnny Key to testify about problems encountered by parents on Monday, the first day of school in the state-run Little Rock School District.
Tolliver is not the only person who’s filed complaints about encountering problems, particularly with the state-mandated use of the Gateway computer system. (What is it about the Hutchinson administration insisting on online use in a poor state with poor computer accessibility.)
Tolliver’s letter said:
Yesterday the Little Rock School District began the 2018-2019 academic year in chaos, literally.
Parents, students, guardians, aunts, uncles, cousins, and members of the LRSD community are outraged at the myriad indignities suffered due to preventable failures of the state operated (and mandated) Gateway registration computer system.
Parents and students, with school assignment letters in hand, showed up at schools across LRSD and were told students were registered at other schools or not at all. Downtown at the Student Registration Office, the atmosphere was tense and frustration abounded, and at the day’s end there were students still not assigned to schools. Again, the Gateway registration computer system was the culprit.
Senators, I am writing to request that you immediately summon the Commissioner of the
Arkansas Department of Education, Johnny Key, to answer any and all questions related to the continued failure, delays, and extended offline periods of the Gateway registration computer system.
The parents, students, grandparents, guardians, aunts, uncles, cousins, and LRSD community deserve to know.
I’m seeking a response from the school district’s spokesman. Key’s not known for extensive responses to question about the district he controls.
UPDATE: District spokesman Pamela Smith continues to check the general complaints, but she said: ” We have had some challenges related to compatibility issues between Gateway and an upgraded version of eSchool.”
Meanwhile, speaking of unhappiness with registration and Key, LRSD activist Anika Whitfield today shared this letter she had sent to the boss of the district and his boss, Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Commissioner Key and Governor Hutchinson,
It is now more than apparent that you both are participating in the continual hijacking, undermining, and weakening of the LRSD, the largest public school district in our state.
What evidence do I have to support this assertion?
1) Since the hijacking of the LRSD (when 6 out of 48 schools failed to meet the raised student achievement standardized test scores from 25% for proficiency to 49.5% and the former AR Commissioner of Education and State Board of Education voted to take over the entire LRSD), on January 28, 2015, the overall student enrollment and teacher morale has shown a significant and devastating decline.
2) The AR State Board of Education, under your watch, has re-approved charter schools in the city of LR that as an entire school system/district, Covenant Keepers Charter School, for example, that has continued to fail to meet the academic achievement test score requirements that were legislated by the state. Yet, when three (half of the LRSS schools that were labeled distressed) have moved off the distressed list (one that came off as a result of actions of consecutive test score improvements that were evidenced in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years), you have not shown the LRSD the same mercy and released us back to locally, elected representation by residents of Little Rock.
3) The LRSD students are suffering by the loss of their beloved teachers by the threat from your administration and your apparent support for hiring uncertified teachers, (persons not trained nor licensed to teach our children). This weakening of the quality of the LRSD has also continued to weaken its overall moral. And, unfortunately, these practices are consistent with other waivers (legal passes to avoid compliance with current laws) you have approved in academic administration positions such as hiring non-certified Prinicipals and Superintendents in the LRSD, and creating a law to exempt the AR State Education Commissioner to be a certified academic administrator.
When one doesn’t respect a profession enough to honor it’s process of licensure and certification, one suggests that it is not important. Is this your overall message and rationale for hijacking our beloved LRSD to show us that you don’t value our children? Let me assure you that if that is your aim, you are successfully achieving your goals.
4) The student enrollment of the LRSD has continued to decline under your watch, since 2015 when you both came into office. We have seen a rise in the numbers of charter schools approved under your leadership. We have witnessed the closure of four schools in the LRSD that were not suffering from academic distress, yet, many of the schools these students have been forced to attend are showing instability in staff retention and a decline in student academic achievement.
5) The processes you have approved to “more easily” register students in the LRSD has not only caused more confusion, found more students not currently enrolled, and unintentionally (perhaps) displaced students from their “assigned” schools, but they have exponentially worsened over the past three academic years.
There seems to be a disconnect and disregard between the administration and the parents/guardians of the LRSD. How many parents, guardians and school administrators were polled to determine whether or not there needed to be extensive training before implementing the Gateway registration process this academic year? What were the results of so? How did you address any push back or evidence of disapproval of this all electronic registration process?
In school systems like eStem, Covenant Keepers and other public-private charter schools, student registration processes are less likely to be as challenging since they only currently have one school for all grade levels or one school for elementary, middle, and high school students. It would not be chaotic nor frustrating for those parents to know which building or school their children are assigned. Again, it appears that your interest lies more in making sure charter school districts are appearing to operate with more ease than the LRSD, the district you have continued to hold hostage from parents and guardians in Little Rock.
6) You both have continued to refuse, since February 2015, to hold a city wide meeting to dialogue and discuss with concerned parents, guardians, students, and community members of Little Rock, a way forward to return local representation to the residents of Little Rock.
We want our schools back.
As tax paying residents of Little Rock, we demand elected representation from our selected peers.
What is the ransom you require for Little Rock School District parents, guardians, students, and community supporters to pay for you to release our district back to us now?
Rev. Anika T. Whitfield
More from Pam Smith:
Despite providing several reminders via our printed calendar, website, ParentLink – our mass notification system, as well as social media and traditional media outlets, when we began our online registration process in the Spring, we had only 7,000 out of 24,000 families take advantage of the early process.
Our online registration through the Gateway portal is mandatory. Because of the way the system is designed, parents who have still not registered online are being advised to do so before they will be able to receive a school assignment.
Having them wait for an assignment in person at the Student Registration Office (SRO) will not serve a purpose if their information is not loaded into Gateway. A large volume of parents have been logging on simultaneously in the past of couple of days; the system is populated at intervals and can only handle so much data at a time.
It is a multi-step process:
Ø After parents have logged on, their information is typically populated into Gateway by 5:30 each morning.
Ø The SRO team must then seal the student’s record.
Ø Gateway puts the information into a shared folder, which could take between one to 24 hours.
Ø SRO can then push the information into eSchool and make a school assignment.
Ø Unfortunately, based on this online process, there is no immediate way to assign a school for parents who did not take advantage of the early registration process.
Ø The majority of students who are new to the District and registered early will be in the system, but those who are just now registering are being assigned as soon as possible.
Compounding these challenges, eSchool was down for maintenance and updates for an extended period this summer, delaying some of the work that would normally have been completed prior to the start of school.
Again, there were multiple opportunities for returning parents to register early; unfortunately, most did not take advantage of those opportunities. However, we have a committed staff who is working extended hours to resolve registration issues. We are appreciative to our patrons for their patience and understanding during this process.